Just a day at the spa

Dentists offer many options to soothe fearful patients

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

PLEASANT HILL - While many patients cringe at the thought of drilling sounds in their mouth, Marcus Felder looks forward to his dental cleanings.

Perhaps the soothing waterfall in the waiting room of his dentist provides a dosage of relaxation for the Fairfield resident. Or it just might be the complimentary paraffin-dip hand or foot massage which accompanies each of his dental cleanings.

Either way, Felder has joined the latest trend in dental practice for patients who want something more than the standard filling or tooth pulling - a dental spa.

"I've been to three dentists before and you don't get this at those places," he said as one of his hands covered in paraffin remained nestled inside a warm mitt. He stares at the woman massaging his other hand and adds, "Where else can you get something like this while getting a cleaning?"

Felder is a patient of the Cosmetic Dental Spa in Pleasant Hill, a facility that offers a coffee bar, warm cookies, a full body massage and a menu full of dental services amid subdued lighting. It is a trend more dentists are following these days as a way to relieve the stigma associated with a dental visit.
"As I was updating my office six years ago, I began to think I could take the dental experience a step further and make it into a spa atmosphere. I had a vision," said owner Dr. Ricardo M. Perez, who added he is one of the original founders of dental spas in Northern California. "I wanted to offer something different to my patients."

As a result, Perez and his crew of dental assistants, aestheticians and massage specialists, uniformly dressed in black, offer their patients a plethora of amenities to go along with their dental needs. For example, a parafango wrap or a glycolic acid treatment. For the daring, a bikini wax can accompany a full-mouth reconstruction, tooth replacement therapy or teeth whitening.

"You might pay a little bit more but you're getting more," Felder said as an aromatherapy candle burned in the background. "You can get your teeth cleaned and fall asleep at the same time with this relaxing music in the office. It's wonderful."

At a time when more than $60 billion is spent annually on dental care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some patients, such as Felder, don't mind splurging a little extra for a better experience.

"If you compare my costs to Los Angeles prices, I'm very cheap for the type of dentistry I offer," Perez said. "I use different materials, we don't use metal at all, and we have state-of-the-art materials.

"But this type of dentistry is not for everyone," he added. "We tend to get clients who look for this kind of facility."

Boutique practice

Dr. Jeffery S. Webb, who has his own practice in Fairfield, defines dental spas as a "boutique practice."

"I feel that's over the top and they cater to a different clientele," he said. "People who have to go to the dentist go. It may be unpleasant for some, but you have to do it."

Similar to Perez, Webb's family-oriented practice offers smile makeovers and a full range of general and cosmetic procedures within a state-of-the-art facility. The way he relaxes patients who have a high level of fear, however, is through conscious sedation performed by an anesthesiologist. He is the only general dentist in the area, he said, who does intravenous sedation.

"For those types of patients, it's hard to get over that fear and so it's easier to put patients under to do the necessary treatments," he said. His patients include children with cerebral palsy, down syndrome and other disabilities. "There are different levels of fear in patients and some don't appreciate the experience. But they know they have to get it done."

Others whose anxiety level are not as elevated will receive oral medication, Webb said, which also helps to reduce the stress.

"Our goal is to make everyone relaxed and comfortable," he said.


As a dentist, Webb admits he is afraid of other dentists.

"I still remember the experience I had when I was 10 years old," he said. "(The dentist) was a jerk. So I can sympathize with my patients. I go through great lengths not to hurt anyone."

Although the CDC states that 70 percent of adults visited their dentist in 2006, about 15 percent will avoid dentist work at all costs because of fear.

According to the Cleveland Clinic Department of Dentistry, there are common reasons that cause dental phobia and/or anxiety: Fear of pain; fear of injections or fear the injection won't work; fear of anesthetic side effects; feelings of helplessness and loss of control; and embarrassment and loss of personal space.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests discussing fears with the dentist who should determine the best ways to make the experience less anxious and more comfortable.

Some of the ways a dentist can help is by explaining every stage of the procedure and establishing a signal, such as raising a hand, when the patients wants the dentist to stop immediately.

For those who seek a dental spa, more are surfacing around the country, according to the Medical Spa Association, as patients seek options to find a more relaxed atmosphere.

"I don't mind having my feet or body massaged when I go to the dentist," Felder said after his cleaning. "When you work hard and you're sore, this feels good. Really good."